How realistic are China’s plans to build a research station on the Moon?


Joshua Chou, University of Technology Sydney

The world is still celebrating the historic landing of China’s Chang’e-4 on the dark side of the moon on January 3. This week, China announced its plans to follow up with three more lunar missions, laying the groundwork for a lunar base.

Colonising the Moon, and beyond, has always being a human aspiration. Technological advancements, and the discovery of a considerable source of water close to the lunar poles, has made this idea even more appealing.

But how close is China to actually achieving this goal?

If we focus on the technology currently available, China could start building a base on the Moon today.




Read more:
Will China’s moon landing launch a new space race?


The first lunar base

The first lunar base would likely be an unmanned facility run by automated robotics – similar to Amazon warehouses – to ensure that the necessary infrastructures and support systems are fully operational before people arrive.

The lunar environment is susceptible to deep vacuum conditions, strong temperature fluctuations and solar radiation, among other conditions hostile to humans. More importantly, we have yet to fully understand the long term impact on the human body of being in space, and on the Moon.

Seeds taken to the Moon by the Chang’e-4 mission have now reportedly sprouted. This is the first time plants have been grown on the Moon, paving the way for a future food farm on the lunar base.

Building a lunar base is no different than building the first oil rig out in the ocean. The logistics of moving construction parts must be considered, feasibility studies must be conducted and, in this case, soil samples must be tested.

China has taken the first step by examining the soil of the lunar surface. This is necessary for building an underground habitat and supporting infrastructure that will shield the base from the harsh surface conditions.

3D printed everything

Of all the possible technologies for building a lunar base, 3D printing offers the most effective strategy. 3D printing on Earth has revolutionised manufacturing productivity and efficiency, reducing both waste and cost.

China’s vision is to develop the capability to 3D print both inside and outside of the lunar base. 3D printers have the potential to make everything from daily items, like drinking cups, to repair parts for the base.

But 3D printing in space is a real challenge. It will require new technologies that can operate in the micro gravity environment of the Moon. 3D printing machines that are able to shape parts in the vacuum of space must be developed.




Read more:
Want to build a moon base? Easy. Just print it


New materials are required

We know that Earth materials, such as fibre optics, change properties once they are in space. So materials that are effective on Earth, might not be effective on the Moon.

Whatever the intended use of the 3D printed component, it will have to be resistant to the conditions of lunar environment. So the development of printing material is crucial. Step-by-step, researchers are finding and developing new materials and technologies to address this challenge.

For example, researchers in Germany expect to have the first “ready to use” stainless steel tools to be 3D printed under microgravity in the near future. NASA also demonstrated 3D printing technology in zero gravity showing it is feasible to 3D print in space.

On a larger scale we have seen houses being 3D printed on Earth. In a similar way, the lunar base will likely be built using prefabricated parts in combination with large-scale 3D printing.

Examples of what this might look like can be seen to entries in the 3D printed habitat challenge, which was started by NASA in 2005. The competition seeks to advance 3D printing construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

NASA’s Habitat Challenge: Team Gamma showing their habitat design.
NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

Living on the Moon

So far, we’ve focused on the technological feasibility of building a lunar base, but we also need to consider the long term effect of lunar living on humans. To date, limited studies have been conducted to examine the the biological impact on human physiology at the cellular level.

We know that the human organs, tissues and cells are highly responsive to gravity, but an understanding of how human cells function and regenerate is currently lacking.

What happens if the astronauts get sick? Will medicine from Earth still work? If astronauts are to live on the Moon, these fundamental questions need to be answered.

In the long term, 3D bioprinting of human organs and tissues will play a crucial role in sustaining lunar missions by allowing for robotic surgeries. Russia recently demonstrated the first 3D bioprinter to function under microgravity.




Read more:
Five reasons to forget Mars for now and return to the moon


To infinity and beyond

Can China build a lunar base? Absolutely. Can human beings survive on the Moon and other planets for the long term? The answer to that is less clear.

What is certain is that China will use the next 10 to 15 years to develop the requisite technical capabilities for conducting manned lunar missions and set the stage for space exploration.The Conversation

Joshua Chou, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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China wrestles with contested heritage of conflict and colonial rule



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Dongguan Street in Dalian reflects both Chinese and colonial history, prompting increasing debate about how to manage this contested heritage.
Author provided

Shiqi Xiong, Griffith University; Karine Dupré, Griffith University, and Yang Liu, Griffith University

China often makes headlines on a great variety of topics, yet very little is said and known about its contested heritage. At a time when this country with a complex and rich history is undergoing rapid urbanisation, one might expect contested heritage to be a hot topic.

For example, many Chinese scholars, officials and villagers view heritage preservation and display as tools of modernisation and improvement in “backward” rural areas. Therefore, the project of cultural heritage display becomes a colonising project, one that estranges local communities from their own cultural resources. In that case, the display of cultural heritage in rural China becomes a contested project.

The village of Tunpu in Guizhou province is a distinctive example of this. The language and culture of Tunpu are not derived from local villagers, but are defined by scholars to represent villagers.

More urbanised areas, notably Hong Kong, also have many cases of contested heritage. The city has a long British colonial history and returned to China in 1997. Many cultural heritage sites remained. These including the Marine Police Headquarter Compound, the Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier, and the Central Police Station Compound.

Nowadays, in the development of Hong Kong, there are differences between the governor and the community in interpretation, restoration, preservation, assignment, commodification or elimination of these heritages.

What exactly do we mean by contested heritage?

Interestingly, an international literature review produces no clear definition of contested heritage. Rather, there is a consensus on its common characteristics.

Firstly, the value and meaning to be given to a specific heritage are contested. Most of the time this is because there are different views and conflicts on aspects of this heritage during its preservation, redevelopment or urban restoration. For example, this happened when deciding the future of the Nazis’ Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. It eventually became an educational tourism destination.

Contestation over heritage has many origins, but always involves negative sentiments.
Karine Dupré, Author provided

Secondly, contested heritage sites always convey a negative sentiment to some extent. Think, for instance, of a walled city: those living either side of the wall will have different attitudes to it. These contested heritage sites are about colonisation, apartheid, slavery, conflict and war, and religious divides.

Although in postcolonial settings multiple communities can succeed in sharing a common negative heritage and become resilient about it, the heritage left by war is always contested, since different countries have different positions. For instance, Japan, America and China have different views of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome), which was inscribed on the World Heritage List. America and China opposed the nomination but for different reasons.

Finally, interpretations of contested heritage by different interest groups fluctuate as these interpretations and meanings might vary depending on the historical period. This is obvious in how the terminology has evolved. It was previously discussed as dissonant heritage and later as ambivalent heritage and even negative heritage.

So what about China’s contested heritage?

As a country with a very long history, China is rich in heritage. It already has 36 cultural heritage sites and four mixed heritage sites on the World Heritage List.

Yet the modern Chinese consciousness of cultural heritage protection began in the late 19th century. This was closely related to Western influence on China at that time (Guo, 2009). That is once source of contested heritage today.

Other contested heritage relates to the traces left by Russian and Japanese colonisation of China. There has been a shift in national heritage policies and in the handling of such memories.

Dalian, on the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula, is a good example. Like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Qingdao, Dalian’s development stemmed from colonial occupation. Invaded by the Russians in 1897, the Japanese in 1905 and returned to China in 1955, the city went through half a century of colonial rule.

This has left lasting imprints on Dalian’s urban planning and urban landscapes. Basically, these are either highly valued (the Russian Nikolayev Square main square is heritage-listed), targeted for demolition, or dismissed (low-income districts built under Japanese rule) … until recently.

Model of Dalian’s historical main square.
Courtesy of Dalian Urban Planning Museum, Author provided

A more nuanced view of heritage

Attention to contested heritage is quite recent in China. There is still little discussion about it as urban modernisation has for a very long time been the number one priority.

However, with rising awareness of the cultural and economic benefits that some heritage could bring to communities, as seen in Dalian, the debate about contested heritage has been gradually gaining more prominence. This is important as it contributes to rewriting the national narrative with more shades of grey.The Conversation

Shiqi Xiong, Visiting Scholar, Griffith University; Karine Dupré, Associate Professor in Architecture, Griffith University, and Yang Liu, PhD Candidate. School of Engineering and Built Environment, Architecture & Design, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Darwin port’s sale is a blueprint for China’s future economic expansion



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Darwin Port, leased to Landbridge Industry Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge, for 99 years.
John Garrick, CC BY-SA

John Garrick, Charles Darwin University

An agreement between Darwin’s city council and an overseas municipal counterpart normally wouldn’t attract much attention. Local government officials love signing such deals. Darwin already has no less than six “sister city” arrangements, including with the Chinese city of Haikou.

But attention has been drawn to Darwin’s newly minted “friendship” deal with Yuexiu District, in Guangzhou, due to Chinese media describing it as part of President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

This suggests Chinese authorities regard Darwin as having strategic significance.

It invites reflection on the wisdom, three years ago, of the Northern Territory government deciding to lease the Port of Darwin (now known as Darwin Port) to a Chinese company for 99 years – and of the federal government going along with it.

At the time the new owner, billionaire Ye Cheng, claimed the Darwin port deal was “our involvement in One Belt, One Road”. This was discounted by some commentators as hyperbole, an attempt to curry favour with the Chinese government.

But now, by design or not, the Darwin port deal increasingly looks like a blueprint for how Chinese interests can take control of foreign ports – as it is doing by various means around the world – without arousing local opposition. Quite the reverse. All levels of Australian government have encouraged it.

It makes Darwin an interesting case study – a point of contest between the strategies of the US and China. Darwin’s port is under Chinese control, while thousands of US marines are based in the city, as part of the US “Pacific pivot” seen by many as an effort to contain China’s influence in the region.


CC BY-ND

How the port deal was done

The deal to lease parts of the port followed successive federal governments refusing to fund necessary upgrading of the port’s infrastructure to meet growing demand.

Infrastucture Australia advised privatisation. Rather than sell outright, the territory government decided to lease the port, and sell a controlling stake in the port’s operator.

Landbridge Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge, won the 99-year lease with its bid of A$506 million in November 2015.

Shandong Landbridge has substantial and varied interests including port logistics and petrochemicals. Though privately owned, like many Chinese companies it has strong ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The company knows how to cultivate political connections. In Australia it gave influential Liberal Party figure and former trade minister Andrew Robb an $880,000 job just months after he retired from parliament.




Read more:
Chinese influence compromises the integrity of our politics


The bid for the port was examined and approved by the Foreign Investments Review Board, the Defence Department and ASIO.

Strategic importance

But the deal put Darwin directly in the crossfire between US and Chinese interests. Then US president Barack Obama expressed concern about the lack of consultation. Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said he was “stunned” that Australia had “blind-sided” its ally.

While the centre of US-Chinese tensions is the South China Sea – where China has militarised reefs in disputed waters – Darwin is important because it is the southern flank of US operations in the Pacific.

Managing the tensions

Zhang Jie, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in 2015 about the concept of “first civilian, later military” – in which commercial ports are to be built with the goal of slowly being developed into “strategic support points” – to assist China defending maritime channel security and control key waterways.

Military-civilian integration was among the goals China set in its 13th five-year plan for 2016-20. President Xi subsequently established an integration committee to oversee civilian and military investment in technology.

As with other Chinese port acquisitions, such as in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Greece and Djibouti, Landbridge is interested in acquiring and developing not only Darwin’s port facilities but nearby waterfront property.

But the Darwin port deal differs in significant ways to other port acquisitions.

It is a far cry from the “debt-trap colonialism” China stands accused of using to gain leverage over other foreign governments, such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.




Read more:
Soft power goes hard: China’s economic interest in the Pacific comes with strings attached


Landbridge has bought the lease, rather than a Chinese bank lending funds to the Northern Territory government to develop the port. If Landbridge was to default, it would lose its money. Any attempt by Landbridge to use the port as security to borrow money from a Chinese bank would trigger renegotiation of the lease.

The territory government retains a 20% stake in the port operator and has a say in key appointments such as the chief executive and chief financial officer. But it will not share any profit that Landbridge may eventually make.

That potential is a long way off. Landbridge Australia reported a loss of A$31 million for the 2017 financial year, with its total borrowings rising to A$463 million. If the deal falls over, the government will need to seek new equity partners. But its immediate commercial risks are relatively contained.

Other risks

Yet risk exposure may take other forms. China’s strategy is very long-term. Darwin is now on the front line in managing tensions between Australia’s most important strategic ally and partner and its major trading partner. Balancing between powerful friends with competing interests may not prove easy.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


There are indications of some recognition of this at the federal level. Australia’s foreign investment review processes have been tightened. A Critical Infrastructure Centre has been created to give extra national security advice. There has been some tweaking of rules about political parties accepting foreign donations.

But others may have learnt valuable lessons too.

Weaknesses in Australian governments at all levels have been revealed. They have been reactive, readily accepting the lure of pearls cast on our shores without considering longer-term currents. Foreign and strategic policy has effectively been left to the local level. While the federal government now seeks to shore up its interests in the Pacific with cash for infrastructure, similar commitments to investing in local infrastructure are essential.

Clumsiness and indecision do not serve Australian interests well.The Conversation

John Garrick, Senior Lecturer, Business Law, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

G20 summit bring a truce in US-China trade relations – but it’s likely to be temporary


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The United States and China have arrived at a temporary truce in a trade conflict that was threatening to further destabilise world equity markets, entrench a global slowdown and cause more damage to a rules-based international order.

Agreement by US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to allow further negotiations before threatened tariff increases on Chinese imports come into effect is a welcome development.

However, this is a temporary respite, a short-term fix, not a long-term solution to myriad trade and other tensions that have put the US and China at odds with each other.

For their own purposes and in their own interests, Trump and Xi have come away from the Argentine capital with a deal that papers over differences that extend from China’s activities in the South China Sea to its mercantilist trade policies.




Read more:
Much at stake as Donald Trump and Xi Jinping meet at G20


As far as we know, China’s ruthless assertion of its sovereignty over disputed waters in the South China Sea was not a material subject for discussion in Buenos Aires except, possibly, in passing.

China’s rise and America’s relative decline ensure these global economic superpowers will continue to bump up against each other.

So, what was achieved and what are the prospects for an accord reached on the sidelines of the G20?

In their efforts to lower trade tensions and prevent a further erosion of global confidence, Trump and Xi agreed to a 90-day extension on the imposition of additional US tariffs on some US$200 billion of Chinese imports.

Trump had threatened to increase tariffs from 10% to 25% on an initial batch of Chinese imports from January 1. He had also flagged his intention to impose levies on another US$267 billion worth of imports if progress was not made in resolving broad-based trade differences.

A joint statement laid out a timeline for continuing negotiations. It reads:

Both parties agree that they will endeavour to have this transaction completed within the next 90 days. If, at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10 percent tariffs will be raised to 25 percent.

In return for these temporary concessions, China agreed to:

… purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial, and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries. China has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product immediately.

China also agreed to crack down on sales of Fentanyl by making it a controlled substance. The US is battling an opioid crisis in which Fentanyl is a lethal component.

In retaliation for US trade actions, China had imposed duties on US$110 billion of imports. A principal component of this is soybeans, effectively killing one of America’s more lucrative export markets.

Trump has been under huge pressure from his Mid-Western rural heartland over a collapse in the Chinese market for American agricultural products.

The two sides also agreed to address structural problems in the trading relationship. These extend to five areas – forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft.

These are highly complex issues and unlikely to be resolved in the short term, if at all.

In the wash-up of the Xi-Trump discussions it appears China has got more out of the deal than the US – at least for now. It has secured a stay of execution for the implementation of tariff increases and forestalled, for the time being, tariffs on an additional bloc of Chinese exports.

In return, it has agreed to buy unspecified quantities of US products and to talk about differences.

Trump’s willingness to compromise after months of bombast reflects pressures from a shellshocked grain-producing constituency and alarm on Wall Street at prospects of a full-blown trade war.

From Beijing’s perspective, China has demonstrated that its growing economic heft has enabled it to avoid the appearance of yielding to US pressure.

If not a “win-win” for China – as Chinese officials are fond of saying – it is certainly not a “lose-lose”.

In a statement at odds with months of fire-breathing rhetoric over China’s allegedly perfidious trade practices, Trump hailed his understanding with Xi. He said:

This was an amazing and productive meeting with unlimited possibilities for both the US and China.

For their part, Chinese officials were more circumspect.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the talks were conducted in a “friendly and candid atmosphere”. The presidents:

agreed that the two sides can and must get bilateral relations right… China is willing to increase imports in accordance with the needs of its domestic market and the people’s needs.

Impetus for a face-saving deal in Buenos Aires has been prompted by growing concerns about the global economy. The signs of a slowdown are clear. Trade volumes had begun to moderate in the third quarter, heightening worries of a global retrenchment.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde at the G20 summit.
AAP/EPA/G20 handout

On the sidelines of the G20, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, noted:

Pressures on emerging markets have been rising and trade tensions have begun to have a negative impact, increasing downside risks.

In its October Outlook statement, the IMF warned about threats to global growth due to trade disturbances.

In their final communique, G20 leaders danced around contentious issues on trade to accommodate American objections to having the word “protectionism” inserted in the document.

In the end, participants settled on the need for reform of the World Trade Organisation to describe a world trading system that is falling short of its objectives. Washington has been agitating for a review of the WTO to strengthen its dispute resolution and appeal procedures.

The US has also objected to a continuing description of China as a developing country, with concessions that enable it to take advantage of less developed country status in its access to global markets.




Read more:
As tensions ratchet up between China and the US, Australia risks being caught in the crossfire


On climate change, Washington separated itself from the other G20 members. All, except the US, reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement. The US announced in 2017 it was pulling out of Paris.

Foreign policy specialists will be sceptical about a de-escalation of trade hostilities given the range of issues bedevilling the US-China relationship.

Reflecting a hardening of US attitudes towards China, and in contrast to the optimism that had prevailed for much of the past two decades, Ely Ratner in Foreign Affairs notes:

Even if tariffs are put on hold, the United States will continue to restructure the US-China economic relationship through investment restrictions, export controls, and sustained law enforcement actions against Chinese industrial and cyber-espionage.

At the same time, there are no serious prospects for Washington and Beijing to resolve other important areas of dispute, including the South China Sea, human rights and the larger contest over the norms, rules and institutions that govern relations in Asia.

A stiffening view in the US towards China is shared more or less across the board. In those circumstances, a temporary ceasefire in Buenos Aires is unlikely to be sustained.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Much at stake as Donald Trump and Xi Jinping meet at G20



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US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet again at the G20 in Buenos Aires, at a pivotal moment in world economic history.
AAP/EPA/Roman Pilipey

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When US President Donald Trump meets his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on the margins of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires between November 30 and December 1, nothing less than a reasonably healthy global trading system and continued economic growth will be on the table.

It is one of the more significant meetings between two global leaders in the modern era.

The encounter will recall the high-wire diplomacy between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, which signalled the end of the Cold War and, as it happened, the disintegration of the former Soviet Union.

Or, before that, Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, which resulted in the signing of the Shanghai Communique and an end to decades of hostility between the United States and China.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


World markets unnerved by an evolving trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies will take their cues from this encounter between an unpredictable US president and a Chinese leader who will not want to be seen to yield ground. Or, to give it an oriental description, lose face.

This is a fractious moment in world economic history.

Billions of dollars in global equity markets will rest on a reasonable consensus in the Argentine capital. The two sides will reach for a compromise that will enable relative stability to be restored to an economic relationship that is threatening to unravel.

Since a ragged outcome, or even failure, is in no-one’s interests, it is hard to believe Washington and Beijing will not seek to calm legitimate concerns about the risks of a full-blown trade war and its impact on global growth.

US-China trade tremors are already having an impact on growth projections for 2018-2020.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund reports the world economy is plateauing, partly due to trade tensions and stresses in emerging markets.

The IMF has scaled back its global growth projections from its July Outlook forecast for 2019 to 3.7% from 3.9%. It has marked down US growth by 0.2 percentage point to 2.5%, and China by a similar margin to 6.2%.

However, if trade disruptions persist, fallout will become more serious in 2020 with global growth projected to be down by 0.8%, and with it US and China growth down significantly.

Trade wars have consequences, including risks of a global recession.

All this invests the Trump-Xi encounter with more-than-usual significance. A bad outcome will heighten risks of an accelerating global slowdown.

In the lead-up to the G20, American and Chinese officials have been preparing the ground, with the Chinese side anxious to reduce tensions following a November 1 phone call between the two presidents.

But it is less clear that Washington is willing to ease pressure on China to liberalise further a foreign investment environment, seek ways to reduce a trade gap and make more conspicuous efforts to tone down concerns about Chinese pilfering of its intellectual property.

In a media briefing in Beijing, Chinese officials underscored China’s desire for a reasonable outcome in Buenos Aires. Wang Shouwen, a vice commerce minister, said:

We hope China and the US are able to resolve their problems based on mutual respect, benefits and honesty.

However, Trump is continuing to threaten further increases in tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports now set at 10% but due to increase to 25% from January 1. He told The Wall Street Journal this week:

The only deal would be China has to open up their country to competition from the United States.

Trump also threatened to slap tariffs on an additional US$267 billion worth of Chinese imports if negotiations with Xi are unsuccessful:

If we don’t make a deal, then I’m going to put the US$267 billion additional on [at a tariff rate of either 10% or 25%].

This next batch of Chinese imports might include laptops and Apple iPhones, which are among China’s biggest exports to the US.

Further complicating the possibility of a satisfactory negotiation in Buenos Aires is a lingering dispute between the US and China over reforms to the World Trade Organisation to strengthen its dispute resolution and appeal mechanisms.

The US also objects to China’s continued description as a “developing country” under WTO rules. This includes provisions that are favourable to Chinese state-owned enterprises.

A collapse in efforts to reform the WTO would strike another blow at a multilateral trading system that is under more stress than at any time since globalisation gathered pace in the 1990s.

The US-China trade conflict, which is threatening to become a full-blown trade war with unpredictable consequences, cannot be separated from a more general deterioration in relations.

These were given expression last month by Vice President Mike Pence in a speech to the Hudson Institute, in which he lambasted China in a way that prompted talk of a new cold war.

Pence accused China of deploying:

… an arsenal of policies inconsistent with free and fair trade, including tariffs, quotas, currency manipulation, forced technology transfers, intellectual property theft and industrial subsidies handed out like candy. These policies have built Beijing’s manufacturing base, at the expense of its competitors – especially the United States.

The US trade deficit with China reached US$375 billion last year – nearly half the US global trade deficit.

None of this augurs well for a constructive resolution of US-China differences at the G20, although you might hope Trump’s approach would be tempered by concerns about the economic consequences of a conspicuous failure.

What seems most likely, given the stakes involved, is for officials from both countries to be tasked with responsibility for addressing a range of American concerns, with the aim of resetting the relationship.

This would seem to be a best-case scenario.

In the meantime, officials working on the draft of a final communique will be struggling to satisfy competing demands from G20 participants for clear-cut statements on protectionism and climate change.

These have been staples of such communiques since the G20 was formed ten years ago amid a global financial crisis.




Read more:
In the economic power struggle for Asia, Trump and Xi Jinping are switching policies


Washington is reportedly resisting an explicit call to fight protectionism. It is also demanding a watering down of the G20’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Consensus on these issues is proving elusive, further undermining efforts to address global challenges.

This underscores a dramatic shift in the global geopolitical environment since Trump gained office.

At the 2016 G20 summit in Hangzhou, world leaders agreed on a “rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation playing the central role in today’s global trade”.

On climate, the G20 committed itself “to complete our respective domestic procedures in order to join the Paris Agreement”.

Two years later, a “rules-based” trading system is being shredded and the Paris Agreement is at risk of unravelling. These are troubled times, not helped by an American pullback from the stabilising role in global affairs it has played since the second world war.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blocking Chinese gas takeover won’t damage Australia’s foreign investment pipeline



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A single foreign company having sole ownership and control over Australia’s most significant gas transmission business, says Australia’s treasurer, is not in the national interest.
Shutterstock

Simon Segal, Macquarie University

The Morrison government’s decision to block Hong Kong’s largest infrastructure company from buying one of Australia’s key infrastructure companies seems to make a complicated relationship with China even more fraught.

Rejections of foreign takeover bids are extremely rare. This is just the sixth such decision in nearly two decades.

It might be argued the blocking of the A$13 billion bid for gas pipeline operator APA Group by Cheung Kong Infrastructure (CKI) Holdings reflects increasing politicisation of Australia’s process for reviewing foreign investment.

But this is not a political shot across the bows like China’s announced anti-dumping probe into imports of Australian barley. This takeover proposal was always doubtful. News of its knock-back potentially damaging relations with China, or foreign investment more generally, are greatly exaggerated.




Read more:
As tensions ratchet up between China and the US, Australia risks being caught in the crossfire


Always unlikely

APA Group owns 15,000 km of natural gas pipelines and supplies about half the gas used in Australia. It owns or has interests in gas storage facilities, gas-fired power stations, and wind and solar renewable energy generators.


APA Group’s infrastructure assets.
APA

Back in September, after APA accepted the takeover offer from a CKI-led consortium, the investment research company Morningstar judged it unlikely that Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board would approve the bid.

The board is only an advisory body. The final decision rests with the federal treasurer. Josh Frydenberg signalled his intention to block the deal in early November, giving CKI a few weeks to change its proposal, either by selling assets or finding other investment partners, enough to change his mind.

That did not happen. Frydenberg’s final decision to block the bid was based, he said, on “a single foreign company group having sole ownership and control over Australia’s most significant gas transmission business”.

He emphasised the government remained committed to welcoming foreign investment: “foreign investment helps support jobs and rising living standards.”

It’s not all about CKI

CKI is not state-controlled. It is headed by the son of Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and has a history of considerable success in investing in Australia.

Nonetheless speculation about the rejection damaging the Australia-China relationship has ensued. In the words of the South China Morning Post: “As the most China-dependent developed economy, Australia potentially has a lot to lose should relations with its biggest trading partner deteriorate further.”




Read more:
Australia and China push the ‘reset’ button on an important relationship


Let’s put this into perspective.

First, there is broad bipartisan agreement that foreign investment is crucial to Australia’s economic prosperity.

Second, as already mentioned, this is just the sixth major public foreign investment proposal blocked since 2000. (All but one, notably, have been by Liberal treasurers.)

Third, all six rejections have been case-specific. Each bid has been considered on its merits.

This case arguably has less to with CKI being Chinese linked than with the size and significance of APA, whose transmission system includes three-quarters of the pipes in NSW and Victoria.

In 2016 CKI’s A$11 billion bid for NSW electricity distributor Ausgrid was also blocked (by then-treasurer Scott Morrison) on national security grounds.

But in 2017 CKI won approval for its A$7.4 billion bid for West Australian-focused electricity and gas distribution giant DUET. And in 2014 CKI’s acquisition of gas distributor Envestra (now Australian Gas Networks) was also cleared.

Shifting emphasis

This is not to deny that politics played a part in Frydenberg’s decision.

The seven-person FIRB board was divided (the exact votes are not known). The Treasurer’s call could have gone either way.

Forces within the Liberal Party that opposed Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership have also been deeply hostile to APA’s sale to CKI. Among the most vociferous was NSW senator Jim Molan, who warned of “hidden dragons” in the deal.

For a minority government lagging in the polls and just months away from an election, such views have assumed inflated importance.

Nonetheless the APA decision was not a surprise. Greater scrutiny is now part and parcel of the Foreign Investment Review Board process. In particular, the emphasis has firmly shifted over the past few years to scrutinising national security and taxation areas.




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The Critical Infrastructure Centre within the Department of Home Affairs, which became fully operational this year, brings together capability from across the federal government to manage national security risks from foreign involvement in Australia’s critical infrastructure. It’s particularly focused on telecommunications, electricity, gas, water and ports.

David Irvine, who has chaired the Foreign Investment Review Board since April 2017, is a former head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

This shifting emphasis does not equate to a bias against foreign investment per se. There is no evidence investors, including Chinese, are being discouraged or significantly deterred from investing in Australia.

CKI itself demonstrates, by returning to Australia despite previous rejections, that foreign investors will not give up so long as the next deal stacks up. There is already speculation CKI has moved on, and now has its eyes on Spark Infrastructure, an ASX-listed owner of energy asset.The Conversation

Simon Segal, PhD research candidate, Business, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In the post-APEC scramble to lavish funds on PNG, here’s what the country really needs



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A student does his homework near a solar power kit in remote PNG – apparently charging his phone or looking up something on the internet.
Geoff Miller/University of Queensland

Mark Moran, The University of Queensland

If you set out by dinghy from the northern-most inhabited part of Australia you will make landfall in Papua New Guinea (PNG) fairly soon.

Boigu Island, part of Queensland, is the most northerly island in the Torres Strait. With its own Australia Post outlet, it is less than ten kilometres from the PNG coast, an area known as South Fly District, part of Western Province. (Fly refers to Fly River, a major feature of the area.)

PNG, a country often overlooked by the Australian public, is enjoying the fierce competition among foreign powers for influence in the country after APEC ended in stalemate and heightened US-China tensions. APEC was held in Port Moresby, PNG’s capital, earlier this week.




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As tensions ratchet up between China and the US, Australia risks being caught in the crossfire


For PNG, the attention may well translate to development funds. Already, the US has pledged to work with Australia to upgrade Lombrum naval base on Manus Island, in what is widely seen as a counter to rising influence from Beijing in the region.

Fishermen at Daru, the capital of PNG’s Western Province, pictured in 2006 as local police cracked down on illegal fishing.
Royal PNG Constabulary

But if foreign powers really want to make a difference to PNG, one of the poorest in the region, then funding equipment like telecommunications gear and solar power kits would be widely welcomed. One key benefit would be using mobile phones to transfer money – instead of traipsing long distances to a bank in town.

No fewer than 85% of PNG citizens live in rural and remote areas, it is estimated – so items like these are capable of making an enormous difference in their lives.

Much talk of infrastructure of late has involved the heavy duty type – ports, rail, military bases and the like. But as we all know, the biggest revolution around the globe is internet access.




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Stepping into remote villages in the South Fly, one is viscerally confronted with the lack of national expenditure or international finances of any kind.

Life in rural PNG has been described in terms of its “subsistence affluence.” The people are friendly and the land is fertile, with reliable rainfall.

But the lack of roads or public transport, and access to cash, means that opportunities for enterprise and employment remain extremely low. Everyone is searching for markets for their produce and crafts, so they can get cash to buy consumables and health services, and pay school fees.

One option for transferring money in these remote areas is via mobile phones.




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Recent research by Tim Grice found that people living in urban centres and rural towns in PNG are already using mobile money to send money to one another.

It is yet to take off in the South Fly but it could do soon, as people are already exchanging mobile phone credits used to top-up their phones.

Across the South Fly, villagers receive money from relatives living in urban centres like Port Moresby – or from Australian relatives in the Torres Strait – through the mail service Post PNG or the “bricks and mortar” Bank South Pacific (BSP) branch in Daru.

Households affected by the nearby Ok Tedi mine receive compensation payments into their bank accounts. The payments relate to extensive environmental damage to the area, especially the Fly River, when BHP Billiton operated the mine. But this could be done via phone payments too.

And then there are public servants or retired public servants, who burn up much of their government pay or pensions just to get to the bank and back. Mobile phone payments would improve life here too.

Paying government salaries and pensions by phone would be far easier

In the South Fly, officials get payments from the PNG government for community work projects. These officials keep careful records of the hours each villager works, but sometimes spend months in Daru, repeatedly asking the district administrator to release the funds. When the funds finally arrive, the elected official journeys home, surrounded by relatives as bodyguards, and hand delivers payments to each worker.

Much of the money goes on transport and accommodation in Daru. Again, this money could be sent via mobile phones.

PNG’s new Ireland province tested the idea of social payments for aged and disability pensions – with great success. The World Bank assessed the idea and said an electronic payment system was needed across the country.

In many South Fly villages, the shared mobile phone is found dangling from a tree or a window, in the one place where reception appears intermittently.

A lack of infrastructure maintenance and coastal corrosion have seen mobile phone coverage in the South Fly deteriorate. Work is underway to replace failing towers, ahead of moves to bring in 3G internet coverage.

A young girl in traditional dress uses a mobile phone as she waits for then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Port Moresby in March 2014.
Alan Porritt/AAP

Maintaining mobile phone towers is cheaper than building roads

The cost of installing and maintaining mobile phone infrastructure is lower than building roads across river deltas and flood-prone savannah. And the higher the demand for transferring money via mobile phones, the more viable an upgrade to mobile coverage becomes.

International donors like China are increasingly funding infrastructure projects in PNG, though often with strings attached. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison just announced an infrastructure financing facility.

Two major mobile network operators, Digicel and B-Mobile, already provide mobile money services in partnership with BSP, Westpac, and ANZ.

Foreign aid could be sent via mobile phones, cutting out the middlemen

Foreign aid could be distributed this way, to a community-based organisation, for example. And cash flowing in means better-off citizens and more economic activity.

Another big potential benefit to all this could be tackling absenteeism among teachers and medical workers. They are often off work travelling long distances to towns to get their pay and do grocery shopping.

But there are risks. Giving the cash directly to people and organisations – where previously it was funnelled through the central government – will fundamentally shift the politics between citizens, leaders, bureaucrats, and international actors, and not necessarily for the better. Some people who may be benefiting from current arrangements may oppose change to protect the privileges they enjoy.

PNG is a place of great complexity, with a development landscape littered with failed efforts. If such changes are made, there will be winners and losers – but surely it’s worth considering new approaches, given how little money is getting to these villages now.The Conversation

Mark Moran, Chair of Development Effectiveness, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why we should worry about Victoria’s China memorandum of understanding



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By itself Victoria’s memorandum of understanding with China means little. It’s what it could usher in.
Shutterstock

Peter Lloyd, University of Melbourne

Victoria’s Labor government stole a march on the rest of the country last month becoming the first (and only) state government to sign a memorandum of understanding with China under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Belt and Road is China’s ambitious plan to lend money to improve infrastructure and other links between it and about 70 other nations that together make up more than 60% of world’s population.




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The Australian government has refused to sign at the federal level where it could have used Belt and Road money to help develop the north. It did this in part because of concerns about China’s strategic intentions. Labor says it is more open to signing.

There’s not much in it

When it signed it in October, Victoria’s Labor government refused to release the text, but it has since done so under pressure ahead of Saturday’s state election.


The memorandum Victoria’s government has made public.
Government of Victoria

At first glance, there isn’t much in it, apart from a series of motherhood statements espousing cooperation:

The parties will work together within the Belt and Road Initiative, with the aim of promoting connectivity of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people, so as to seek new opportunities in cooperation and inject new momentum to achieve common development to strive to develop an open global economy, jointly combat global challenges and promote the building of a common future.

Also, the agreement makes clear it is not legally binding.

There are risks nonetheless

But the memorandum itself is the equivalent of hanging out a sign saying Chinese infrastructure investment is welcome.

On signing it, Premier Dan Andrews boasted that in four years he had “more than tripled Victoria’s share of Chinese investment in Australia, and nearly doubled our exports to China”. He sees Victoria as leading the development of closer links between the Australian and Chinese economies.

One risk is that Victoria will get projects that don’t pass cost-benefit analysis, a concern overseas.

Another is excessive debt accumulation by Victoria, also a concern overseas where it has led to strategic assets falling into Chinese hands.




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In August the current Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mohathir Mohamed cancelled a US$27 billion East Coast Rail Link project and two other pipeline projects that his predecessor had signed as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

He did so partly on the grounds that the awarding of these projects was linked to corruption in the previous administration and partly on the grounds that they would lead Malaysia to become excessively indebted to China.

He went further, speaking of “a new version of colonialism”.

And they mightn’t be our workers

Another concern is the large scale use of imported Chinese labour.

When read alongside an earlier memorandum of understanding signed as part of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement over the use of Chinese labour on infrastructure projects funded by Chinese partners, it would appear to allow the employment of an unlimited number of Chinese workers.




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This memorandum signed between the Commonwealth government and China as part of the free trade agreement is lax. It includes no requirement for labour market testing.

Because of the difference in wage rates paid to Chinese and Australian infrastructure workers that would remain even after the imposition of the minimum wages required by the memorandum, the Chinese partner would have a strong incentive to employ Chinese workers.




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It could mean that although Australia would get the infrastructure, it would miss out on employing Australians to build it.The Conversation

Peter Lloyd, Professor of Economics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As tensions ratchet up between China and the US, Australia risks being caught in the crossfire


File 20181119 27767 1g4rqmc.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The APEC forum in Port Moresby may come to be seen as a pivotal moment when the US reasserted itself in the Pacific region.
AAP/EPA/Mast Irham

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Port Moresby may not be Yalta, nor, it might be said, is it Potsdam. But for a moment at the weekend the steamy out-of-the-way Papua New Guinea capital found itself at the intersection of great power combustibility.

When this latest chapter in America’s relationship with China is written, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Port Moresby in November 2018 may well come to be regarded as a moment when Washington exposed its determination to reassert itself in the region.

The failure of APEC leaders for the first time in the organisation’s history since 1993 to agree on a final communique, due to a standoff on trade between the United States and China, points to more trouble ahead.




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Unless frictions on trade and other issues are eased over the coming months, Washington and Beijing will have embarked on a course that threatens to destabilise the whole region.

These are significant moments in the evolution of a fractious relationship between an established and a rising power.

The US has long wrestled with a workable approach to an ascendant China. It has oscillated between a hedging strategy, elements of containment, and a process of engagement.

None of these approaches has gelled.

Now, it appears to be moving towards a policy of strategic competition and economic confrontation. This is a combustible formula.

Competing worldviews were on show in Port Moresby as leaders of the two countries put aside diplomatic niceties.

US Vice President Mike Pence’s declaration that the US would not “change course” in its trade dispute with China until that country “changes its ways” could hardly have been more provocative.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, took a swipe at the US when he said countries that embraced protectionism were “doomed to failure”.

Failure to secure American and Chinese signatures to a leaders’ communique arose from differences over the need to reform the World Trade Organisation.

China dug its heels in on language that might have posed challenges to the role of state-owned enterprises, and also on the question of differential treatment of developed and developing countries.

China has long benefited under WTO rules from being regarded as a developing country.

Both Pence and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned loans to Pacific countries were being used as a “debt trap” to assert Chinese influence. Xi strongly rejected these assertions.

Whatever the upshot of these skirmishes, America’s posture in the Asia-Pacific has shifted to one in which it seems to be spoiling for a fight. Canberra should be wary.

The Barack Obama pivot to the Asia-Pacific ended up lacking substance and has been superseded by a combative Trump administration. Its approach has less to do with engagement than with confronting China’s regional ambitions.

The pressure point for regional competition lies in the South China Sea, where China is developing base facilities on disputed features. That strategic competition now extends to the southwest Pacific.

Pence’s announcement that the US would partner Australia and Papua New Guinea in the development of a naval base on Manus Island overlooking the Bismarck Sea is, arguably, the most significant American security initiative in the Asia-Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War. Pence said:

We will work with these nations to protect sovereignty and maritime rights of the Pacific Islands as well.

Thus, Beijing was put on notice that America would adopt a more forward-leaning posture in the Asia-Pacific. Where this leads is hard to predict, but what is certain is that trade and other tensions will have a security overlay.

American bases on the Korean Peninsula and in the Japanese archipelago will now stretch into the southwest Pacific. The Manus base will overlook maritime routes on Australia’s northern approaches.

From an Australian strategic perspective, this is a hugely significant development, and one that will test Canberra’s ability to balance its security relationship with the US and its commercial partnership with China.

Beijing will correctly view the Manus facility as a joint endeavour to neutralise China’s thrust into the southwest Pacific, where it has been cultivating micro-states as part of attempts to spread its power and influence across the region.

Belatedly, Canberra is responding to this Chinese assertiveness in its backyard by ramping up its diplomatic engagement, expanding its aid programs, and now partnering Papua New Guinea and the US in the development of a joint naval facility.

In the period ahead, Australian diplomacy towards China will need to be more nimble and subtle than it has been in the recent past.

Beijing will be watching.

Morrison was not understating the case when he said US involvement in the Lombrun base on Manus would elevate Australia’s relations with its ANZUS alliance partnership to a “new level”.

How this “new level” plays out will depend on careful management of relations with China by whatever government is in power.

A joint naval facility will inevitably make it more difficult to avoid being caught in an American slipstream in any confrontation with China.

Finally, in the lead-up to what is shaping as one of more important encounters between world leaders in years – the meeting between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G20 in Buenos Aires this month – Australian policymakers would be advised to read Pence’s October 4 address to the Hudson Institute in Washington.




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Assuming Pence’s speech represents an administration view, this should be regarded as a deeply antagonistic statement verging on a declaration of hostilities.

Pence accused China of: seeking to influence America’s mid-term congressional elections; engaging in cyber attacks against American institutions; stealing American property rights; and adopting ruinous trade practices:

When it comes to Beijing’s malign influence and interference in American politics and policy, we will continue to expose it, no matter the form it takes.

We will work with leaders at every level of society to defend our national interest and most cherished goals.

Some viewed the Pence speech as the forerunner of a new cold war. That probably overstates the case, but it is also true that relations between Washington and Beijing have taken a turn for the worse.

Watch this space.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With China-US tensions on the rise, does Australia need a new defence strategy?



File 20181120 161621 1g1rmsp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
China’s rising influence in the region has alarmed many defence experts. But the question remains: would Australia ever need to fight China on its own?
Joel Carrett/AAP

Greg Raymond, Australian National University

There is no evidence that China has ever contemplated using its nuclear weapons to coerce another state. Instead, China has maintained a “no first use policy” on nuclear weapons. Surprising as it may sound to many, China wants to build an image of itself as a responsible power.

But the fact remains that China could threaten to use those weapons to force the Australian government into, say, ceasing its patrols of the South China Sea, regardless of the much-debated US “nuclear umbrella” in East Asia.

This is the reality that Australian defence planners have lived with for some 50 years. Australian defence force planning has long accepted the premise that our self-reliance needs to be viewed within an alliance context. As recently as 2009, the government plainly conceded that the Australian Defence Force was not expected to deal with a situation:

…where we were under threat from a major power whose military capabilities were simply beyond our capacity to resist.

In such a situation, we don’t expect to be alone.

This point is important to bear in mind when we consider recent discussions of a “Plan B” to strengthen Australia’s defence posture.




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Commentators have suggested recently that Australia’s strategic risk is increasing and the A$195 billion defence spending plan announced in the 2016 Defence White Paper is now insufficient.

Australian taxpayers would certainly be interested to know why a plan that doubles our submarine fleet, significantly expands our navy and adds 100 of the most advanced and expensive combat aircraft ever invented would now be seen as insufficient.

The answer lies in the shifting strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, which has led to greater concerns about China’s long-term intentions and rising tensions between China and the US. So what exactly has changed?

China’s recent activities in the region

Since the last Defence White Paper in 2016, Australian defence observers have been alarmed by four things:

  • China’s rejection of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that deemed its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea illegal

  • China’s conversion of its South China Sea artificial islands into military bases, which was largely complete by the end of 2016, despite a pledge President Xi Jinping gave then-President Barack Obama that China had “no intention to militarise” the islands

  • reports in April of this year that China was establishing partnerships with Pacific nations like Vanuatu for potential future military bases and other arrangements

  • the election of Donald Trump as US president and the uncertainty this has brought to the region due to his disparaging of traditional alliances and disdain for multilateral institutions

These events have occurred against a backdrop of China’s rapidly expanding global footprint. This includes the establishment of its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and its growing access to regional ports such as the controversial Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which the Sri Lankan government ceded to Beijing on a 99-year lease.

President Xi Jinping has rapidly expanded China’s presence in the Pacific region in recent years.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

These regional shifts have also come amid growing illiberalism in China, evidence of increasing Chinese intelligence and influence operations in Australia (especially the Dastyari affair) and bullying behaviour from Chinese officials in their meetings with Australian politicians.

In addition, Trump appears to mark a significant break with the strategic priorities of previous US administrations. He’s threatened to walk away from America’s support for the traditional allies and global trade institutions that have characterised US foreign policy since the Second World War. This has put unprecedented distance between the United States and Australia, which as a middle power needs healthy global institutions.




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But on China, it’s different. The Trump administration and importantly, the US security apparatus, share Australia’s darkening view of China to the point we may now be seeing a new Cold War developing in the region.

Case in point: the recent announcement of US participation in the development of a joint naval base with Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. This is clear evidence of the US’s new willingness to compete with China and a signal the US wants to dispel the uncertainty left in the region in the wake of Obama’s problematic “pivot” to Asia.

Assessing the risks for Australia

In assessing whether Australia needs a steep increase in its defence spending, there are two questions we must ask: Firstly, what regional developments could the 2016 Defence White Paper not have anticipated? And of these, which equate to risks that increased defence spending can obviate?

Our defence planners have been well aware since at least 2009 of China’s gradually modernising defence forces and steadily growing navy. China’s moves toward a blue-water fleet, including new carriers and cruisers, were also well understood in 2016.

While the artificial islands in the South China Sea were still being built, their eventual militarisation was also anticipated by Australian defence leaders, despite China’s protestations to the contrary.

But even knowing all of this, Australia’s defence planners essentially decided in the 2016 White Paper to continue with the “Force 2030” force structure they envisaged in 2009. There have been some additions like shore-based anti-ship missiles, but our plan has largely been focused on enablers – that is, the capability to make the force operate with greater certainty, precision and coordination. Importantly, this White Paper did not envisage Australia fighting China on its own.




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Of the strategic developments involving China since 2016 – from the revelations of its influence operations to its new-found interest in the Pacific – the question defence planners should now be asking is whether any undermine the fundamental judgements of the 2016 White Paper. Do they point to a need to radically change Australia’s defence posture?

Combating China’s illicit influence in Australia is being dealt with through our stronger foreign influence laws. Offsetting China’s influence in the Pacific will be best undertaken through Australia’s aid and diplomatic programs.

This leaves the big question of the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region – the most critical of defence planning factors. Will Australia be left on its own in the foreseeable future?

And here we must observe that despite Trump’s anti-alliance rhetoric, the American force posture in the Western Pacific actually remains unchanged. There have been no base closures and no force draw-downs as of yet from the bases encircling China in Guam, Japan and South Korea, though Trump has threatened this.

Mike Pence signaled a harder US stance towards China in a speech last month, saying: ‘We will not stand down.’
Fazry Ismail/EPA

Moreover, the hardening US view against China means a likely strengthening of its Asia-Pacific posture under the new National Security Statement, the cardinal US security policy document.

In fact, the US is now expanding its presence in the region with the announcement of the new joint naval base on Manus Island. The US also recently put its nuclear deterrence guarantee to Australia in writing for the first time in history. And the American Marine build-up in Darwin continues.

Although China’s military advances are making the task of possibly defeating its navy more challenging, the fact remains that it will be a long time before it’s able to start a war with the US confident of victory. The US also seems unwilling to leave China to dominate Asia.

In these circumstances, would China use its forces against other countries in the region, like Australia, without the US getting involved? In my view it could not.

Therefore, while every responsible government should continue to assess defence planning and ensure appropriate levels of readiness, the case for a sharply increased defence spending plan is not at this point compelling.The Conversation

Greg Raymond, Research fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.